Reap What you Sow; Seed Money for Niche Agricultural Entrepreneurs in Floyd County
Like many rural southwestern Virginia counties, Floyd ‘s main industry is agriculture. It’s also home to a mix of creative people who grow or make specialty items for sale.
Now the county is getting behind them with an initiative to help its boutique farmers actually make a living at it. Adam Fisher won a thousand dollar prize for technical support for his wild food harvesting business called Burgeoning Farms.
Part of the ‘Floyd Grown initiative’ is about cultivating local agriculture, products and experiences – otherwise known as agritourism. As small rural counties go, Floyd is already tourist destination in the region. But it wants to become a ‘brand’ and market its wares way beyond its borders.
Lydeana Martin is Floyd’s Community & Economic Development Director. “Our tourism Director, Pat Sharkey came up with the idea that people visit Floyd and fall in love and we want to be able to ‘follow them home” so to speak. If they saw something here that they wanted to buy, they could go to a website and purchase it that way."
Adam Fisher is one of the winners of a recent competition for grant money to help bring niche business like his to the next level.
He’s pulling a multitude of fungi out a bag from inside a large cooler. Brightly colored ‘Chicken of the Woods,’ which grow in spring. “So, we got some nice rain last week and this is Laetiporus cincinnatus.” He explains, "'Hen
of the Woods’ come out in the fall at the base of oak trees. "
“Mushrooms are food, they’re medicine, they’re used in biofuels and remediation of the soil, they’re being made into building materials, they’re being used for packing materials instead of Styrofoam and the list just goes on and on.”
Fisher calls himself a landless farmer. His passion is permaculture, particularly sustainable harvesting of wild mushroom from the woods.
“Being a young farmer, obtaining land is really hard. So that’s a huge obstacle for people who don’t have access to land,” Fisher says.
“So people just let you go on their land to do this," I ask? That’s surprising.”
“I have good relationships with folks in Floyd and for the most part, people don’t mind and whenever I’m foraging on someone’s land I offer them some," Fisher responds. "You know, I give them whatever they want, if they want. Some people will take it, some don’t.”
Fisher moved here from North Carolina to pursue his passion for foraging. He came to an area that has no end of wooded areas, a stake in sustainability and people who ‘get it.’ “Here in Floyd more people are alternative living minded, and especially chefs, really appreciate the wild mushrooms, but like for the most part, my family are like, ‘you do what?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah I walk around in the woods and pick mushrooms”
Adam Fisher is not your every day farmer. He also harvests, ramps, those pungent green onions, native to the region. He takes only the leaves so the plants continue to grow. He keeps bees, more to sustain the species than anything thing else. “A big part of my life is community building. It’s one of the reasons I love Floyd and so having this group marketing potential to share with customers in and out of the region is a real plus.”
Fisher is using the prize money he won from the Floyd Grown initiative to join what the project calls a virtual storefront where customers can find him online.
“I’m not good with computers so it allowed me to get a website up and running and get labels made and designed, which was huge because I have these products that I need and want to sell, like my dried mushrooms and my fermented (ramps), they have to have a label approved by VDACS before I can sell them. That’s just huge and I didn’t have the financial resources to do that.”
VDACS, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Community Services, is also one of several funders for the Floyd Grown initiative. You can see a list of the others below. Their goal is to help fill some of the holes for agricultural entrepreneurs, like Adam Fisher. His company is called, Burgeoning Farms.
A website here, farm equipment there, a little bit of seed money can go a long way.
Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (Building Entrepreneurial Economies program)
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (Agriculture and Forestry Industry Development program)
Virginia Tourism Corporation
Floyd County Board of Supervisors
The Floyd County Economic Development Authority was the receiving entity, and its Chairman Jon Beegle, served on the Floyd Grown Committee, along with 3 of us from the County staff (Tabitha Hodge, Karla Turman and Lydeana Martin), two Town of Floyd staff (Kayla Cox and Katie Holfield), and our County Tourism Director (Pat Sharkey), with help and support from a County Board of Supervisor (Linda Devito), County Agriculture Extension Agent (Jon Vest) and the Floyd Chamber of Commerce (director John McEnhill). The Eddy Alexander firm led the logo development work, which involved the Floyd Grown Committee, the Floyd County Tourism Development Council and its stakeholders, and many community members.
The winners of the $1,000 technical support mini-grants were:
Adam Fisher (Burgeoning Farm)
Jason and Cindy Tueller (Tueller Easel Studio)
Frank Hyldahl and Dawn Shiner (Green Wood Wizard)
Rachel van Pelt and Tree Giante (Perennial Uprisings)
Judy Bowman (Wildwood Farms General Store)
Alison & Adam Siller (Sweetwater Baking Company)
Penny Ladeur (Woodland Wonders)
Roger and Leslie Slusher (Field’s Edge, LLC)
Rhonda Withington (Thistle Hill Botanicals)
Kelly Erb (Invisible Chef)
The Floyd Grown Local Grant winners were:
Field’s Edge, LLC ($8,000)
Buffalo Mountain Kombucha (Scott and Cassie Pierce) ($5,000)
Thomas Hill Angus (Zach Fisher) ($3,000)
Many agencies were involved in providing technical support for the project and businesses, including the New River Valley Regional Commission; USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services, Rural Development, and Farm Service Agency; Virginia Tech Food Innovations Program, Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Virginia Farm Bureau (FAIRS), Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the Virginia Manufacturing Extension Program.